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AMDOBELL

THE DEVIL'S CRADLE: 14. "Deadly Obsessions"
Thursday, June 28, 2012

If he was to retrieve what was lost there could be no mistakes, no mishaps, not even the tiniest of slips. They were so close to achieving what they had been working towards.


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 2385    RATING: 10    SERIES: FIREFLY

TITLE: "DEADLY OBSESSIONS" SERIES: THE DEVIL'S CRADLE CHAPTER: 14. Sequel to "JOINING THE DOTS" FANDOM: "FIREFLY" AUTHOR: Alison M. DOBELL PAIRING: Zoe/Wash Kaylee/Simon Mal/Inara RATING: PG-13 SUMMARY: "The Operative is determined to recover what is missing. The crew has yet to realise the full consequences of Rufus Pol's death and River needs to talk to the Captain. Meanwhile, Lucy has her first bit of really good luck but will it last?"

"DEADLY OBSESSIONS"

A "Firefly" Story

Written by Alison M. DOBELL

* * * * *

The look on the Operative's face was uncompromising. "Find him!"

The grey uniformed officer gave a short nod but did not move. "We could wait for his next contact, *shifu*?"

Features darkening, the Operative stared at the officer for a long moment, needing to make his point clear before explaining. "I want him found before he can do any more tampering, *dong ma*?"

The officer stiffened and did everything but salute. "Yes, *shifu*."

"One last thing."

The officer paused.

"He is no good to me dead."

Once the man was gone the Operative went to speak in private with the technicians. He needed to know exactly what had been done to the girl and how. If he was to retrieve what was lost there could be no mistakes, no mishaps, not even the tiniest of slips. They were so close to achieving what they had been working towards. This unwelcome discovery set a suspicion nagging in the back of his mind. He turned to the first technician who was guarding the vault.

"Examine every child carefully. You know what to look for now. I want to know if he did the same thing to the others and how he covered his tracks."

Alone again, the Operative was lost in thought. His blood burning with a fury so strong it could immolate every vein in his body if he let it. Only an iron control kept it in check, slowly dissipating the destructive emotion until he was once again calm. He would have his answers then he would take his revenge.

* * * * *

Jayne wasn't happy being put on clean up duty but as Zoe pointed out, he made the mess so it was up to him to clean it up. Grumbling, Jayne Cobb went to get a pail and such just as Wash, Shen Willets and Kaylee came running towards him. Wash looked flush and anxious, Kaylee paled instantly as she glimpsed the body. She put a hand up to her mouth so as not to throw up, wondering where the rest of the head was and frantically hoping she hadn't trodden in any of it. Shen Willets took it all in quickly, his mind working at lightning speed not liking what it might mean. Wash noticed the body of Rufus Pol was in close proximity to the infirmary and couldn't quite hide the worry from his voice.

"We heard shots. *Fasheng le shenme shir la*?"

The mercenary huffed. "If'n you're askin' how many died just one. Cap's fine, me an' Zoe were there just in case Rufus tried anythin'."

Kaylee glanced down, carefully not looking at the end where the head should be. "I guess he tried somethin'."

"Didn't do him no good." Jayne spat down at the body. "Never did trust the sly *wangba dan*."

Shen frowned. "Thought ya liked him, Jayne?"

His expression twisted. "Why's everyone keep sayin' that?"

"Maybe 'cause ya did." Said Kaylee.

"Yeah, well like an' trust ain't the same thing."

"Is Zoe...?"

Jayne jerked his head towards the infirmary behind him as he pre-empted Wash's question. "She's in with the Cap. Surgery went well, doc says he got it all out."

Relieved looks spread on their faces. Kaylee beamed at him, maybe things were starting to look up after all. Wash hurried to the infirmary with Kaylee in tow. Shen hung back to talk to Jayne, a troubled look on his face.

"Don't make sense."

Jayne was striding off to get the pail, had no time for dissecting meaning out of other people's random sentences. "Ain't my problem."

Shen didn't move to follow him. "It will be."

The big man stopped mid-stride and walked back to Shen, his brows furrowed and aspect darkening, every line in his body tensing. "You threatenin' me?"

"*Bu qu*, just sayin' is all." Jayne watched Shen Willets closely. "With Rufus dead I'm guessin' he's takin' his secrets with him."

"What gorram secrets?"

Shen shrugged but he didn't look happy and that made Jayne uneasy. "Rufus an' his men turned up around three years ago. At first you'd just see that great behemoth of a terraformin' ship appear like some great ugly cloud'a doom. It would fly over Anaeron real low then leave again. Never could figure out what it was doin'. Then about a year ago it set down here on Ithaca Moon, ain't seen it fly since. Don't make sense."

It was on the tip of Jayne's tongue to repeat what Rufus had told them in the infirmary but he didn't know Shen any better than he'd known Rufus, except he liked Shen a whole lot better. But like wasn't the same as trust and he had a body to scrape up off the deck. "Ain't got time for jawin' Shen, gotta get this cleaned up before it stinks."

Shen Willets wrinkled his nose in distaste. He hadn't much liked Rufus one way or the other but dead was dead. "Want some help?"

Jayne was surprised then suspicious. "*Weishenme*? Nobody cleans up a mess they don't have to."

He got a grumpy scowl back. "Was just offerin' to help not give ya my first born."

Jayne was about to tell him he could deal with it without any help when he realised that meant leaving Shen to roam around the ship on his own and he knew the Captain wouldn't like that. *Diyu*, Zoe would pin back his ears if she found out. Besides, maybe he could get Shen to do the muckiest part. He gave the man a nod. "*Xie xie*, come on let's get started."

* * * * *

The body was slack and so limp it appeared lifeless. The technicians weren't so much cruel as unfeeling. The body was something discarded like waste, an object of no value except whatever the Operative ascribed to it and right now he was hunting for answers, clues. The operating theatre was spotless and every surface gleamed in the harsh glare of the lights.

The Operative stood up on the next level looking down through the observation gallery. Beside him was a built in com unit so he could speak to the mortician and specialised surgical team that would come after. The mortician would prepare the body then leave the theatre to the experts. He did not care if they had to remove every layer of skin, expose every nerve and dismantle the brain to locate the tell tale signs he was looking for. Maybe he would find answers, maybe not, but he refused to be cheated. The other children were still alive but in suspension. Once they finished with the girl he would have the same procedure performed on the others until he had a complete picture of what had been done and how. He already knew who the likely culprit was and a special squad had already been despathced to look for the man who foolishly thought he could get away with a theft of this magnitude.

As the mortician made the first cut the Operative spared not a single thought for the child beneath the knife. The sacrifice of her death after all was to make a Better World. What greater cause in the 'verse could there be than that?

* * * * *

"*Bao bei*, I heard shots - I was so worried!"

Despite the circumstances Zoe felt her heart lift at Wash's appearance. He hurried over to her and squezed her hand.

"*Wode hao, zhangfu*."

Kaylee's cry of alarm caused Wash's head to whip round, only then realising that someone had been injured. Inara. Simon tried to reassure Kaylee even as he finished a careful line of sutures on the side of her neck where the scalpel had caught her. Fortunately she had been carrying mugs of tea which threw the weapons trajectory off so it was a glancing blow that cut across the skin rather than embedded into the side of her neck. While Simon inwardly thanked the God of small mercies the Captain was mute but seething, River Tam silent next to the head of his infirmary bed. So still and silent that Kaylee never noticed her.

"'Nara," she choked out "what happened?"

Zoe explained in a emotionless voice before Inara could say anything. Her tone flat, Rufus Pol already dismissed to the oblivion he deserved. "Rufus tried to get past me an' Jayne, saw the scalpel on Simon's instrument tray an' grabbed it on'y Inara was comin' in as he was tryin' to go out so he threw it at her."

Inara looked paler than Kaylee could remember seeing but managed a reassuring smile for her stricken friend. "Kaylee, I'm fine. It's just a scratch."

Tears pooled in Kaylee's eyes, she couldn't believe Rufus had tried to kill her friend. "You could'a died, 'Nara!"

"But I didn't, *mei mei*."

Kaylee saw the look in Inara's eyes and realised her friend, though shaken, was not badly hurt. She looked at Simon and he nodded as he finished, tying off the stiches. "Inara is lucky Kaylee and will be fine. The cut isn't deep and I've been careful to make the stitches as small and neat as I can so when it heals and the stitches dissolve they won't leave a scar."

"*Xie xie ni*, Simon." Said Inara gratefully.

Simon smiled back, genuinely pleased to be able to help. "*Bu xie*. If only all my patients were so grateful." The Captain couldn't speak or retaliate but for once he didn't bristle. He had been horrified and concerned for Inara, hardly believing the way everything had spiralled out of control so quickly. Jayne's quick thinking had ended the threat, Rufus Pol joining the ranks of the dishonourd dead. It had left a nasty taste in his mouth and a pang in his heart. Polly had been his friend. Never would have expected him to betray him like this. He looked up at the sound of Shepherd Book's deep voice coming from the doorway, a rumble of calm he had not even known he had missed.

"I seem to have slept through all the excitement."

His hair sprang out every which way in disarray making a comical rather than scary sight. At least River didn't scream this time. Zoe explained what had happened, the Preacher looking sad and alarmed by stages. His gaze turned thoughtful. "He must have known he would not make it off this ship."

"Don't expect he was thinkin'." said Zoe, her voice terse and expression grim.

Simon decided that enough was enough. "I think the Captain's had enough excitement for the day, *dong ma*?"

Book apologised but was waved off. The Captain wanted to protest that he was shiny, didn't need no more sleeping for a while but when Simon was in doctor mode not nothing could shift him. Mal's eyes met Zoe's in mutual understanding. He sighed knowing this was a battle he would not win. Zoe resisted the urge to smile and gave him a nod instead. "See you later, sir."

Unable to speak he nodded back then watched his crew leave. Kaylee hung back so she could go up to him and give him her shiniest smile. He manfully ignored the remains of tears in her eyes. "Glad you're okay, Cap'n. We was all real worried about ya."

He smiled and squeezed her hand. Kaylee grinned, "I love my Cap'n" then kissed his cheek.

As she straightened her eyes met River's. "Think there's some food left if'n you're hungry, River."

River shook her head. Kaylee turned back to the Captain and patted his hand. "You just rest an' get better, *dong ma*?"

The Captain nodded then watched her go. Simon shut the infirmary door then noticed River was still in the room. "River, the Captain needs to rest." River nodded and sat down. "I'll just sit here, quiet as a mouse."

"You should go with Kaylee, *mei mei*. Mice need to eat too."

Her smile was a kind of illumination from inside, lighting up her face with that pleasure and innocence that was forever his sister. Such a fey thing. "I'll eat later, Simon. Not hungry now." She turned to look at the Captain who was visibly flagging but trying to hide it. "You can sleep. I'll keep watch."

Simon wanted to shoo her out but when River got an idea in her head nothing in the 'verse could shift it. "River, you're not helping." He said gently, hoping to appeal to her to let him know what was best for his patient. She beamed back at him.

"Mice know how to be quiet, Simon."

The doctor looked at the Captain, noted how heavy his eyelids were and realised the man would be asleep within moments whatever he and River decided. He bit back a sigh. "Very well, but no talking - either of you!"

River nodded. The Captain rolled his eyes wearily. He would love to be able to talk and they both knew it. Satisfied that he could do no more, Simon was grateful Inara had not dropped the mugs when Rufus had thrown the scalpel. Maybe it was her Companion training that made her set them down or more likely a delayed reaction to a threat she had not fully perceived. He picked up the mugs and put them near River in case she or the Captain were thirsty. River's eyes were amused but affectionate, the Captain's were fighting an uphill battle to stay open. Simon almost smiled but caught himself in time. River watched him leave and shut the door quietly behind him.

"He.. g...gone?" Whispered the Captain as quietly as falling leaves.

"Hush, no talking!"

He glared up at her. River smiled back. "Go to sleep."

"You... want...ed to talk... to me, real... urg...ent like." His breath caught painfully with the effort of hissing out those few words.

"Listen don't talk."

He went to open his mouth but her glare stopped him. Since when did River Tam tell Serenity's Captain what to do? On the tail end of that was the realisation that rules didn't exactly apply to River. She obeyed them as and when she chose and not to nobody else's timetable but her own. River grinned at him as if reading the thoughts running through his head, as pleased as punch and not doing a gorram thing to hide it.

"You speak better when your mouth is shut." He raised his eyebrows at that odd little declaration, tired but intrigued. Her voice dropped to a quiet intimate cadence, her amusement and affection a balm for his ears as she leaned closer.

'I can hear you just fine, Captain Daddy'

It was the last confusing thing he remembered as healing sleep overwhelmed him, her words catching him oh so gently as he fell. It wasn't until much later that he realised the words had not actually been spoken out loud. Well, wasn't that shiny?

* * * * *

Frustration and anger flared like twin engines of destruction. Silas wanted to rant and rave but that might draw unwanted attention and he worked best in the shadows. The night was his friend, losing control was not. It had taken him longer than he liked to wriggle back out of the twisting narrowing tunnel that his adult size could no longer navigate. When he finally extricated himself, the fury was a deep inward unhappy humming in his body, his sharp mind splintering into razors ready to cut to pieces whoever happened upon him in this volatile state. He forced himself to take deep breaths, letting the cold clensing air strip through his overheated lungs and bring a measure of calm to a soul in turmoil. He was furious with himself. Not only had the girl gone where he could not follow but she had found a champion, one so strong and adept that he actually blocked and barred his own considerable abilities which shook him greatly. He needed to find the exits, collapse all but one, then he could fashion a trap of his own making. One which would catch not one but two prizes.

The thought pleased him, soothed his destructive temper into something he could both handle and keep hidden. Only a will of iron would serve him now and he was a master at forging it to his bidding.

* * * * *

He was dreaming. Had to be. It was the only explanation for how clearly he was able to hear and talk to River Tam though for some reason his eyes were closed. Permaybehaps it was night time?

'You aren't dreaming'

'I ain't?'

'Not hallucinating either'

'Pretty sure hallucinations are things you see, little one, an' all I see is black'

'That's because your eyes are closed'

'They are?'

'*Qu* but you don't need to see to hear'

There was a pause before the Captain answered. 'What am I listenin' to?'

'I hear them calling, crying out to me and it's getting louder!'

He could sense her fragile state though he did not understand the reason. 'You havin' nightmares?'

'Nightmares aren't real'

'An' these voices?'

'Real people, children. They're in danger, we have to help them'

'*Wei*, just a gorram minute. Who are they an' what kind'a *goushi* they in?'

He could hear the tears in her voice and not nobody should upset her like that, it just wasn't right.

'Like me but not'

'You sayin' they're in my head too?'

'*Bu qu*, you don't have the connection'

'But I'm guessin' you do?'

'They're gifted and because of that they are being hunted, captured, their abilities harvested'

'River, how do you know this?'

'I can hear them, feel the pain. It's getting louder!'

'Need you to tell me who these children are, how to find them'

'They aren't in the same place but he is'

'He?'

'The Hunter'

'He the one who's after them?'

'*Qu* but I can find him, follow his scent'

'How in the nine hells you gonna do that? You ain't a bloodhound, River'

River paused. Despite her sadness she almost smile but then the voices crowded in again, begging for help, crying for salvation. She had to tell him, make the Captain understand. 'The ones who search use him. Like a lightning rod to catch our genius's in a jar but they never get it all. Keeps the best for himself'

'So we find this *qingwa cao de liumang* we find the link to the folk chasin' these children an' tryin' to find you?'

'Crude but accurate'

The Captain felt his heart lighten a little as if things were gradually beginning to make sense though what to make of it he did not know just that someone needed him, *mashang*. 'You know what this means? We can track down them as are behind this creepy trade'

'Trouble and strife'

Confused he frowned in his sleep. 'Best speak plain'

'To find him you have to find her. They're a team but never together'

'River, that makes no sense'

She gently tapped the side of his head but not enough to wake him. 'Connected here' then tapped his chest 'not there'

He nodded. 'Okay, got it. Not all there'

Her smiled was a wan shadow but he didn't see it. All he knew was that she was upset and needed his help. Girl had become entirely too serious and sad of late. Not no power in the 'verse should be able to do that. Girl had lost enough. They catch this *tamade hundan* and trace them as sent him maybehaps they could end the gorram nightmare for once and for all. River heard his thoughts but did not agree.

'It's a web. Follow one silk thread and get tangled in another'

The Captain could not see how that would help. 'Then what're you suggestin'?'

'We set a trap'

Deep in the dream state he took a moment before answering, his thoughts becoming a thin wavering thread echoing an inward fear - not for himself but for her. 'You fixin' to be the fly, little one?'

River did not want to do it but was too smart to pretend there was any other workable option. 'Has to be the right bait or it won't work but there's a danger'

'Ain't there always?'

'When I catch his scent, he'll catch mine'

'Then we find another way'

River put a hand on his sleeve. 'You know it makes sense, Captain'

'River, I know you wanna catching this *hundan* as much, probably more, than the rest of us but that don't mean puttin' you in the kind'a danger I can't get you out of, *dong ma*?'

'Not your decision'

'I'm the Cap'n'

'And Simon's my brother but this is my life, *dong ma*?'

'No, it ain't. Maybehaps you been alone too long, little one but this ain't just about you. You're on my crew same as the rest of them an' I don't leave my crew behind or let them go into danger 'less I'm beside them.'

'You can't come where I'm going' She thought sadly, not wanting to hurt him.

'Then go somewhere I can'

River set her jaw and stared at the sleeping man not in anger but frustration. 'We don't have time for this'

'Then we make time. Not sayin' it again, River, 'cause you're smarter than that. Need you to use that big fat brain to find another way'

A stray thought popped into her head. 'You think he's one of the Triad?'

'*Wo bu zhidao*. Could be a mercenary'

River tried to see but it was so cloudy, too many variables and the parameters kept changing. 'Too many players with sticky fingers'

Even though he was asleep he was so very tired but knew there would be no proper rest until they solved this problem. Slowly he began to surface through sheer force of will, his body so heavy it almost dragged him back down again, but instinct and bloody mindedness spurred him on. Knowing that time was short and River needed him. All those children calling out to someone able to reach out and end the gorram nightmare. As he fought to blink the sleep from his eyes he wondered who the good gorram would end his.

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*shifu* = sir *dong ma* = understand? *wangba dan*/*tamade hundan* = fucking bastard *fasheng le shenme shir la*? = what has happened? *hundan* = bastard *bu qu* = no (lit. no go) *weishenme* = why? *diyu* = hell *xie xie* = thanks *bao bei* = precious/treasure *wode hao* = I'm good *zhangfu* = husband *mei mei* = little sister *xie xie ni* = thank you *bu xie* = you're welcome *qu* = yes (lit. go) *wei* = hey! *wo bu zhidao* = I don't know *qingwa cao de liumang* = frog humping sumbitch

COMMENTS

Thursday, June 28, 2012 4:02 PM

NUTLUCK


Very nice, especially the Mal/River moment at the end.

Friday, June 29, 2012 1:02 AM

AMDOBELL


Thank you Nutluck, I always like the instinctive connection between Mal and River, a kind of undertanding that by-passing reason and is soul deep. Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Saturday, June 30, 2012 8:01 PM

MALSDOXY


um, at the end shouldn't it be 'would end his' and not 'wound', just asking...Ok, so now she's got the Captain all fired up and he can't speak-well shouldn't be- and there's gonna be a plan and we ALL know how those turn out so...and do love your Mal/River interludes...waiting on the next chapter, please and thank you

Sunday, July 1, 2012 1:47 AM

AMDOBELL


Oooh, thanks for picking up the typing error, I will fix that in edit Malsdoxy. Yes, River has a way of getting through to the Captain that bypasses all normal methods. Thanks for the shiny feedback, Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Monday, July 9, 2012 6:46 AM

EBFIDDLER


I like Jayne's distinction between "like" and "trust" -- a very important distinction, it seems to me. The scene with the Operative and the body was creepifying. I liked the line "Mice need to eat too" and the follow up of "Mice know how to be quiet." Of course it's after all is supposedly "quiet" that all the significant dialog happens! :-) And speaking of creepifying...that Silas is mean AND creepifying..."good" qualities for a bad guy, I suppose, but aaaiiiieeee! Don't let him get Lucy.

Monday, July 9, 2012 1:27 PM

AMDOBELL


Glad you like Jayne's distinction between 'like' and 'trust', Ebfiddler. All sorts of creepifying characters and events to come but hopefully it won't involve mice! Thanks fo the shiny feedback, Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"


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